A historic all-women trek of the Inca Trail will take place this monthBarbara Noe Kennedy

On March 30, 2021, for the first time in Machu Picchu trekking, an all-women team of porters and tour leaders will lead an all-women group of clients on the 26-mile, four-day trek along the famous Inca Trail.

“I’m excited because a pure women’s group means things are changing. We are proving we can do it without men,” says Lucia Merclajuly Vela Sosa, who will be participating in the historic trek as a tour guide. While the trek is designed to break stereotypes, perhaps even more importantly, this all-women initiative also supports women against discrimination and provides an opportunity to earn a fair income. 

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Eight to ten porters and two tour guides—most of them indigenous Quechua women who live in pueblos along the Inca Trail—will carry a 15-kilogram (33-pound) pack of camping and cooking equipment from start to finish. The trail wanders at an average of 13,000 feet, scaling mountains on oft-slippery, stone-strewn surfaces. The women will set up and tear down camp every day and guide their clients along the celebrated trail. And they will be paid the same wage as men—about $70 for a four-day trek plus tips. In Peru, women typically earn $10 a day.

Machu Picchu is cloaked in fog.
The Inca Trail leads to Machu Picchu © Cesar March / 500px

Portering was a job for exclusively men until 2017, when Evolution Treks Peru, followed by other companies, began hiring women porters and tour leaders—though only one or two on a team of up to 20 porters.

“We hope to do this every two weeks in 2021,” says Miguel Angel Góngora Meza, co-founder of Evolution Treks Peru. “And every week or more in 2022. There’s a lot of interest in this. Evolution Treks is committed to ensuring equal opportunities for men and women in the workplace. They have been active in advocating for porters’ rights along the trail, including fair wages and trailside living conditions. But the all-women initiative takes it one giant step further by breaking stereotypes and showing other women what the possibilities are”. 

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“It’s not just about being a porter,” says Sara Qquehuarucho Zamalloa, who will be joining the trek as the second tour guide. Both she and Lucia were the Inca Trail’s first-ever women porters in 2017, and they went on to become professional tour guides after graduating from a tourism school in their native town of Calca in the Sacred Valley. She says the work is empowering. “If I can do the Inca Trail, I can do anything,” she adds.

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